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Alan Rusbridger always wins The Guardian's former editor is no stranger to the revolving door

He is unstoppable. (Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images)


July 29, 2021   4 mins

Reflecting on The Guardian’s 200th birthday earlier this year, Alan Rusbridger was forced to admit that the paper he once edited “has never been much of a business”. He would certainly know. After his departure from the newspaper in 2015, which was preceded by years of costly expansion projects, annual cash outflows reached £72 million. There were 250 redundancies the following year.

My thoughts were with those former employees this week when I read that Rusbridger has another act left in him, this time as the editor of Prospect magazine. His appointment to the helm of the centre-left magazine did not cause many ripples beyond the confines of Twitter. But it was a reminder of an iron rule of British life, which is that prizes will always remain available for a certain sort of person on the Left. For them, no setback is ever forever. Often, it is hardly a setback at all.

One of the most perplexing aspects of every Conservative government is the continued reluctance of people on the Right to put themselves forward for public appointments. One reason for this, sometimes put forward by ministers themselves, is that people on the Right are often too busy pursuing private careers to spend their energies in the public sector. The argument goes that if they do move to the public sector, they only do it towards the end of their careers once they have made money.

There may be some truth to this, but it is at best a partial explanation. In recent years, the more likely reason is the tendency of the Left to hound anyone who dares encroach on what they regard as their territory. So a few years ago, when Toby Young was put forward as a non-executive member of the Office for Students, he was not merely deemed unsuitable for the job, but had almost every other part of his career torn from him.

It was the same with Sir Roger Scruton when he was appointed to an unpaid position on an advisory committee on house building. The activist Left used the opportunity to attempt to end in his career — even if it meant making up lies. In this climate of censoriousness, is it so surprising that Right-wingers and even centrists remain loath to put themselves forward for prominent appointments? Who would want every aspect of their personal life upturned for the sake of a job?

But as Rusbridger’s latest appointment demonstrates, such concerns are not shared by the Left. For by any reasonable standards, Rusbridger is a surprising person to appoint to any editorial position — and not only for his budgetary shortcomings.

The recent public admission by Roy Greenslade that he had been an active supporter of the IRA throughout his period of employment at The Guardian might normally have been dismissed as simply a matter of a foul personal conscience, had Greenslade not used his position at the paper to repeatedly push it in a pro-IRA direction. Greenslade’s pro-IRA opinions were well-known at the time — but when  Rusbridger was repeatedly warned about this, he decided that those telling the truth were liars.

You might say that this was a different era and different standards applied. But Rusbridger failed one of the most notable standards of our own era as well. During his time as editor, he allowed Greenslade to downplay the rape of a woman, Måiría Cahill, and its subsequent cover-up by members of the IRA. By then Rusbridger must have been well-aware that his employee was a supporter of the IRA.

Why was that contributor allowed to smear a woman blowing the whistle on one of the IRA’s many disturbing practices? It is worth considering the outrage that would have erupted if, say, an editor of a Right-wing tabloid had allowed a female rape victim to be smeared in his pages. Their career would be finished. For Rusbridger, however, all he had to do was step down from an Irish media commission he was on.

Elsewhere, his career has continued to flourish. After leaving The Guardian he sailed into the comfortable position of Principal of Lady Margaret Hall — a position that it is impossible to conceive would ever have been offered to Paul Dacre. But last year, he announced his plans to leave his Oxford perch to spend more time addressing “the question of trust in media and society”.

No doubt he was confident that the revolving door would continue to work for him. Even if the old media wouldn’t give him another job, I suspect he felt safe in the knowledge there were plenty of other opportunities out there. Indeed, it is noticeable that in the wake of the Máiría Cahill scandal in March, Rusbridger did not resign his membership of other boards he was on.

He did not, for instance, resign from the deeply sinister Facebook Oversight Board, which decided that former US President Donald Trump should be barred from the platform. Perhaps he neglected to take that particular hit because the Board reportedly pays its members six-figure salaries for not much more than a dozen hours of work a week.

Yet in many ways, Rusbridger’s long tale of success is to be expected. After all, the Conservative Party may be the dominant political force in Britain. But there remains an unassailable culture that will always favour relatively unimpressive figures on the Left who preach about the importance of diversity but always take the jobs that they could so easily offer up to others.

If they have no business acumen, it doesn’t matter. If they have broken the standards of their trade, it doesn’t matter. If you’re lucky enough to be part of a small circle on the establishment Left, the world is your oyster. That is what keeps conservatives out of so many corners of public life. Britain still belongs to the Left – the Right just pretends to govern it.


Douglas Murray is an author and journalist.

DouglasKMurray

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Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
2 years ago

You could write a whole book on wokewashing where incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption are fine so long as you spout the right opinions.

Charles Lawton
Charles Lawton
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

Yes the cap fits here, but it also does for most of our current Government too. Maybe as Douglas says “In this climate of censoriousness, is it so surprising that Right-wingers and even centrists remain loath to put themselves forward for prominent appointments? “

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

Quite. Opposed to the market, the Left preaches no more than feudalism at the end of the day, with a general secretary in place of the king and ideologues in place of the church; the rest of us accept dole, shuffle paper or toil in collective institutions. So it’s no surprise that in imposing this rigid new / old order, they form up into an entitled clerisy, rewarding each other with shiny gongs and fat sinecures and echoing the corrupt bishops of the late middle ages in praise of poverty.

Peter H
Peter H
2 years ago

What is this ‘Right’ of which you speak, Douglas? As I remember Tory MPs were prominent in the hounding of Roger Scruton. There is no conservative force in government, and precious little anywhere else.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter H

I was there when Murray and Scruton came on stage in London to a standing ovation shortly after that nasty attack. There is still Conservatism here – and honey still for tea.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Gobsmacked. What an odious man and what an indictment on some of the institutions of the left. Not pleased to know about him.

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago

Serious questions need to be asked about the Guardian/Scott Trust’s funding, during and particularly after the Auto Trader years. Their links to terrorists and states such as USSR/FRS, Iran and Libya are probably the best place to start. There is a big vacancy for a thinking left liberal news offering in the UK, as the Guardian no longer works. It is a significant concern that the UK state apparatus has allowed what amounts to a hostile sovereign power to spill bile and lies daily to c400k mostly innocent people. Sure you get a lot of fiction, speculation and dog whistle nastiness across the UK 4th estate but the Graun has the grim persistance, deep planning and deep pockets of the FSB, Revolutionary Guard or similar.

Last edited 2 years ago by mike otter
Chris Williams
Chris Williams
2 years ago
Reply to  mike otter

Together with the BBC, Imperial College and the MHRA, isn’t the Guardian a UK mouthpiece of the Bill Gates Foundation?

Last edited 2 years ago by Chris Williams
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Williams

Yes, and Rockefeller Foundation too.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

“That is what keeps conservatives out of so many corners of public life. Britain still belongs to the Left – the Right just pretends to govern it.”

That final statement is sad, but mostly correct. However, I cannot help but think that this arrangement in which the culture of public life is under the exclusive control of an ideology that most people reject with contempt cannot possibly last. It’s politically unstable, and must crash and burn before too long.

Susan Sandford
Susan Sandford
2 years ago

A tiny instance of the reach of the dominant ideology came to my notice – first hand – last week. The BBC has ordered the interview teams for posts in one of its departments not to ask about a key element of experience and expertise because ‘those with this expertise are usually white’! This is wrong on so many levels.

Christopher Gelber
Christopher Gelber
2 years ago

Yes. Mark Steyn has a saying about US politics and culture: when the Dems or Left win, they are in power and act accordingly; when GOP politicians or the Right (whatever that even means today) win, they are merely in office and keep the seats warm. (Steyn puts it better.) It applies equally here. Pop quiz: who was the last open conservative to have been appointed the Master or equivalent of an Oxbridge college? No, I don’t know either.

John Smethurst
John Smethurst
2 years ago

Chris Patten has been Chancellor of the University of Oxford since 2003.

Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  John Smethurst

Which is a mostly ceremonial role, rather than an executive post.

Kit Read
Kit Read
2 years ago
Reply to  John Smethurst

Rob Butler in the 70s, was Chris a Tory?

Bill W
Bill W
2 years ago
Reply to  John Smethurst

Yes. And I wouldn’t have voted for him.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 years ago

K.D.Lang has let herself go

Mike K
Mike K
2 years ago

Rusbridger would be SO honoured by that.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago

The full extent of your writing skills?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

Who can forget how, despite a complete lack of public interest, Rusbridger and the BBC worked tirelessly to turn the minor phone hacking issue in a major new story in order to wage war on Murdoch and News International and how quickly it became a non-story once it had served its purpose

Last edited 2 years ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago

We on the right keep making the mistake of thinking about the left as a political option, it isn’t, it’s a cult. A cult that owns the truth and knows what’s best. As for owning a country, it’s not just the UK or the US In Portugal and probably all over the western world it’s the same. A few years ago a former right wing prime minister was offered a teaching position, guess what happened? My guess is that in Poland and Hingary the left is having temporary setbacks, soon it will come back with a vengeance.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago

Whilst the left do benefit more from this type of thing, especially among the civil service, I think it’s rather common in the private sector as well. Once people reach a certain level they only ever appear to fall upwards. There are plenty of CEOs have made an absolute dog’s breakfast of running a company, costing workers their jobs and the company money, only to end up at a competitor in an improved role with a nice plum salary. Incompetence isn’t a barrier to those at the top unfortunately

Bill W
Bill W
2 years ago

The sad fact as others have noted is that the left and/or those with a conscious or unconscious lefty outlook run this country. The right in the form of the Conservative Party haven’t challenged them since Mrs Thatcher felt she had to resign in the face of opposition from her own Conservative Party MPs.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bill W
Naren Savani
Naren Savani
2 years ago

The irony is that Prospect was founded by the estimable David Goodhart, whom these small minded intellectual lightweights hounded. And now this nowhere man gets to ruin like he did the guardian

Satyam Nagwekar
Satyam Nagwekar
2 years ago

I usually enjoy articles churned out by Douglas given my conservative leanings but this one doesn’t quite hit the spot. To postulate left hegemony in public policy or other influential positions on the basis one man’s career trajectory is taking things, too, far. A range of instances involving a substantial number of leftists, for instance, would have made for a better argument but not one man’s antics. Rusbridger is just not significant enough to do that in my view.

Bob Bobbington
Bob Bobbington
2 years ago

For a range of instances, see any and all holders of institutional positions of power: the Civil Service, the BBC and other legacy media, quangos, charities, judiciary, universities, etc. The fact that these are all held by left-wingers hardly needs stating, let alone documenting.

Satyam Nagwekar
Satyam Nagwekar
2 years ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

Well, as someone not conversant with British politics and public life, this wasn’t very apparent to me. From the perspective of building the argument, I do, however, feel that the story lacks the desired range of instances to build the narrative. Surely, some actual accounts of the right-leaning folks making a run from public positions would have also helped.

Bill W
Bill W
2 years ago

I enjoyed the piece. I am a great fan of Douglas Murray.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

The point is surely that the persistence of individuals like this in positions of privilege and prominence is proof that everyone else around him is essentially like him. The article lists a series of incidents and characteristics that would never be tolerated if describing anyone on the Right or centre in politics. What proves the point is that this odious man is tolerated by everyone around him.

Satyam Nagwekar
Satyam Nagwekar
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Surely one man’s actions are not a representation of “everyone else around him”. Don’t get me wrong, I have a pretty conservative outlook to life. A weak argument is, however, a weak argument from a journalistic perspective.  

Last edited 2 years ago by Satyam Nagwekar
John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

You miss the point: the fact that he is tolerated by his peers shows that they share the same values. If they did not, his manifest failures would have led to his expulsion from public life, which is what happens to every non-Leftwinger who makes a so much as a faux-pas on Twitter, let alone express continued support for terrorists and rapists, as Rusbridger has got away with.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago

I agree with you here. Not a bad article at all but not one of his stronger ones.
Favouritism in various industries abound, and I would not say it had a particular swing to left or right.
Cries of nepotism are a staple criticism directed at the right and they go back forever, but few seem to acknowledge that there is left-wing nepotism that is rife in many parts of the media, civil service etc. Douglas alludes to it but could have made more of that point.

Zaph Mann
Zaph Mann
2 years ago

Seems like a bit of a smear job – I like Unherd but there are convenie slants towards right wing views – Rusbridger made the Guardian online (GO-2 originally I think) a thing years before anyone else in fleetstreet made any move. That’s why The Guardian is so established. If you want to criticise his politics do that in a separate article. If you want to critcise hos achievements, include the accomplishments.